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535 Phil. 133


[ G.R. NO. 172175, October 09, 2006 ]




This petition for review under Rule 45 of the Rules of Court assails the January 24, 2006 Decision[1] of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 89148 granting respondent China Banking Corporation's (Chinabank) petition to annul the Orders dated April 1, 2004[2] and October 22, 2004[3] of the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, Branch 30,[4] in Civil Case No. T-947.  Also assailed is the March 31, 2006 Resolution[5] denying petitioners' motion for reconsideration.

The facts are as follows.

On February 18, 2003, spouses Expedito and Alice Zepeda filed a complaint for nullification of foreclosure proceedings and loan documents with damages[6] against respondent Chinabank before the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, which was docketed as Civil Case No. T-947 and raffled to Branch 30.  They alleged that on June 28, 1995, they obtained a loan in the amount of P5,800,000.00 from respondent secured by a Real Estate Mortgage over a parcel of land covered by Transfer Certificate of Title (TCT) No. T-23136.

Petitioners subsequently encountered difficulties in paying their loan obligations hence they requested for restructuring which was allegedly granted by Chinabank.  Hence, they were surprised when respondent bank extrajudicially foreclosed the subject property on October 9, 2001 where it emerged as the highest bidder.  Respondent bank was issued a Provisional Certificate of Sale and upon petitioners' failure to redeem the property, ownership was consolidated in its favor.

According to petitioners, the foreclosure proceedings should be annulled for failure to comply with the posting and publication requirements.  They also claimed that they signed the Real Estate Mortgage and Promissory Note in blank and were not given a copy and the interest rates thereon were unilaterally fixed by the respondent.

Respondent bank's motion to dismiss was denied, hence it filed an answer with special affirmative defenses and counterclaim.  It also filed a set of written interrogatories with 20 questions.

In an Order dated April 1, 2004, the trial court denied Chinabank's affirmative defenses for lack of merit as well as its motion to expunge the complaint for being premature.  The trial court reiterated its denial of Chinabank's affirmative defenses in its Order dated October 22, 2004 and directed the Clerk of Court to set the pre-trial conference for the marking of the parties' documentary evidence.

Aggrieved, respondent bank filed a petition for certiorari under Rule 65 which was granted by the Court of Appeals.  It held that the trial court gravely abused its discretion in issuing the two assailed Orders.  It ruled that compelling reasons warrant the dismissal of petitioners' complaint because they acted in bad faith when they ignored the hearings set by the trial court to determine the veracity of Chinabank's affirmative defenses; they failed to answer Chinabank's written interrogatories; and the complaint states no cause of action.

On March 31, 2006, petitioners' motion for reconsideration was denied hence, the instant petition raising the following issues:

The issues for resolution are: a) whether the complaint states a cause of action and b) whether the complaint should be dismissed for failure of petitioners to answer respondent's written interrogatories as provided for in Section 3(c), Rule 29 of the Rules of Court.

The petition is meritorious.

Anent the first issue, the Court of Appeals ruled that the complaint failed to state a cause of action because petitioners admitted that they failed to redeem the property and that ownership of the same was consolidated in the name of Chinabank.

A cause of action is a formal statement of the operative facts that give rise to a remedial right.  The question of whether the complaint states a cause of action is determined by its averments regarding the acts committed by the defendant.  Thus it "must contain a concise statement of the ultimate or essential facts constituting the plaintiff's cause of action." Failure to make a sufficient allegation of a cause of action in the complaint "warrants its dismissal."[8]

As defined in Section 2, Rule 2 of the Rules of Court, a cause of action is the act or omission by which a party violates the right of another. Its essential elements are as follows:
  1. A right in favor of the plaintiff by whatever means and under whatever law it arises or is created;

  2. An obligation on the part of the named defendant to respect or not to violate such right; and

  3. Act or omission on the part of such defendant in violation of the right of the plaintiff or constituting a breach of the obligation of the defendant to the plaintiff for which the latter may maintain an action for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.
It is, thus, only upon the occurrence of the last element that a cause of action arises, giving the plaintiff the right to maintain an action in court for recovery of damages or other appropriate relief.[9]  In determining whether an initiatory pleading states a cause of action, "the test is as follows: admitting the truth of the facts alleged, can the court render a valid judgment in accordance with the prayer?"  To be taken into account are only the material allegations in the complaint; extraneous facts and circumstances or other matters aliunde are not considered.  The court may consider in addition to the complaint the appended annexes or documents, other pleadings of the plaintiff, or admissions in the records.[10]

In the instant case, petitioners specifically alleged that respondent bank acted in bad faith when it extrajudicially foreclosed the mortgaged property notwithstanding the approval of the restructuring of their loan obligation.  They claimed that with such approval, respondent bank made them believe that foreclosure would be held in abeyance.  They also alleged that the proceeding was conducted without complying with the posting and publication requirements.

Assuming these allegations to be true, petitioners can validly seek the nullification of the foreclosure since the alleged restructuring of their debt would effectively modify the terms of the original loan obligations and accordingly supersede the original mortgage thus making the subsequent foreclosure void.  Similarly, the allegation of lack of notice if subsequently proven renders the foreclosure a nullity in line with prevailing jurisprudence.[11]

We find the allegations in the complaint sufficient to establish a cause of action for nullifying the foreclosure of the mortgaged property.  The fact that petitioners admitted that they failed to redeem the property and that the title was consolidated in respondent bank's name did not preclude them from seeking to nullify the extrajudicial foreclosure.  Precisely, petitioners seek to nullify the proceedings based on circumstances obtaining prior to and during the foreclosure which render it void.

Anent the second issue, we do not agree with the Court of Appeals' ruling that the complaint should be dismissed for failure of petitioners to answer respondent bank's written interrogatories.

It should be noted that respondent bank filed a motion to expunge the complaint based on Section 3(c) of Rule 29 which states:
SEC. 3.  Other consequences. - If any party or an officer or managing agent of a party refuses to obey an order made under section 1[12] of this Rule requiring him to answer designated questions, or an order under Rule 27 to produce any document or other thing for inspection, copying, or photographing or to permit it to be done, or to permit entry upon land or other property, or an order made under Rule 28 requiring him to submit to a physical or mental examination, the court may make such orders in regard to the refusal as are just, and among others the following:

x x x x

(c) An order striking out pleadings or parts thereof, or staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed, or dismissing the action or proceeding or any part thereof, or rendering a judgment by default against the disobedient party; and

x x x x.[13]
As we have explained in Arellano v. Court of First Instance of Sorsogon,[14] the consequences enumerated in Section 3(c) of Rule 29 would only apply where the party upon whom the written interrogatories is served, refuses to answer a particular question in the set of written interrogatories and despite an order compelling him to answer the particular question, still refuses to obey the order.

In the instant case, petitioners refused to answer the whole set of written interrogatories, not just a particular question.  Clearly then, respondent bank should have filed a motion based on Section 5 and not Section 3(c) of Rule 29.  Section 5 of Rule 29 reads:
SEC. 5.  Failure of party to attend or serve answers. - If a party or an officer or managing agent of a party willfully fails to appear before the officer who is to take his deposition, after being served with a proper notice, or fails to serve answers to interrogatories submitted under Rule 25 after proper service of such interrogatories, the court on motion and notice, may strike out all or any part of any pleading of that party, or dismiss the action or proceeding or any part thereof, or enter a judgment by default against that party, and in its discretion, order him to pay reasonable expenses incurred by the other, including attorney's fees.
Due to respondent bank's filing of an erroneous motion, the trial court cannot be faulted for ruling that the motion to expunge was premature for lack of a prior application to compel compliance based on Section 3.

This Court has long encouraged the availment of the various modes or instruments of discovery as embodied in Rules 24 to 29 of the Rules of Court.[15]  In the case of Hyatt Industrial Manufacturing Corporation v. Ley Construction and Development Corporation,[16] we declared:
Indeed, the importance of discovery procedures is well recognized by the Court.  It approved A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC on July 13, 2004 which provided for the guidelines to be observed by trial court judges and clerks of court in the conduct of pre-trial and use of deposition-discovery measures. Under A.M. No. 03-1-09-SC, trial courts are directed to issue orders requiring parties to avail of interrogatories to parties under Rule 45 and request for admission of adverse party under Rule 26 or at their discretion make use of depositions under Rule 23 or other measures under Rule 27 and 28 within 5 days from the filing of the answer. The parties are likewise required to submit, at least 3 days before the pre-trial, pre-trial briefs, containing among others a manifestation of the parties of their having availed or their intention to avail themselves of discovery procedures or referral to commissioners.
The imposition of sanctions under Section 5 is within the sound discretion of the trial court.  Thus, in Insular Life Assurance Co., Ltd. v. Court of Appeals,[17] we held:
The matter of how, and when, the above sanctions should be applied is one that primarily rests on the sound discretion of the court where the case pends, having always in mind the paramount and overriding interest of justice.  For while the modes of discovery are intended to attain the resolution of litigations with great expediency, they are not contemplated, however, to be ultimate causes of injustice. It behooves trial courts to examine well the circumstances of each case and to make their considered determination thereafter. x x x
WHEREFORE, the petition is GRANTED.  The January 24, 2006 Decision and the March 31, 2006 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP No. 89148, which granted respondent China Banking Corporation's petition to annul the April 1, 2004 and October 22, 2004 Orders of the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, Branch 30 denying respondent bank's affirmative defenses without a hearing as well as its motion to expunge the complaint because of petitioners' failure to answer the written interrogatories are REVERSED and SET ASIDE.  The instant case is REMANDED to the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur, Branch 30, for further proceedings.


Panganiban, C.J., (Chairperson), Austria-Martinez, Callejo, Sr., and Chico-Nazario, JJ., concur.

[1] Rollo, pp. 26-36.  Penned by Associate Justice Andres B. Reyes, Jr. and concurred in by Associate Justices Rosmari D. Carandang and Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa.

[2] Id. at 40-42.

[3] Id. at 43-44.

[4] Penned by Judge Alfredo A. Cabral.

[5] Rollo, p. 38.

[6] Id. at 63-69.

[7] Id. at 12.

[8] Goodyear Philippines, Inc. v. Sy, G.R. No. 154554, November 9, 2005, 474 SCRA 427, 434.

[9] Swagman Hotels and Travel, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 161135, April 8, 2005, 455 SCRA 175, 183.

[10] Goodyear Philippines, Inc. v. Sy, supra at 435.

[11] Ardiente v. Provincial Sheriff, G.R. No. 148448, August 17, 2004, 436 SCRA 655, 665.

[12] SECTION 1. Refusal to answer. - If a party or other deponent refuses to answer any question upon oral examination, the examination may be completed on other matters or adjourned as the proponent of the question may prefer.  The proponent may thereafter apply to the proper court of the place where the deposition is being taken, for an order to compel an answer.  The same procedure may be availed of when a party or a witness refuses to answer any interrogatory submitted under Rules 23 or 25.

If the application is granted, the court shall require the refusing party or deponent to answer the question or interrogatory and if it also finds that the refusal to answer was without substantial justification, it may require the refusing party or deponent or the counsel advising the refusal, or both of them, to pay the proponent the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order including attorney's fees.

If the application is denied and the court finds that it was filed without substantial justification, the court may require the proponent or the counsel advising the filing of the application, or both of them, to pay to the refusing party or deponent the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred in opposing the application, including attorney's fees.

[13] See Rollo, p. 41.

[14] G.R. No. L-34897, July 15, 1975, 65 SCRA 46, 63.

[15] Ong v. Mazo, G.R. No. 145542, June 4, 2004, 431 SCRA 56, 63.

[16] G.R. No. 147143, March 10, 2006, 484 SCRA 286, 301-302.

[17] G.R. No. 97654, November 14, 1994, 238 SCRA 88, 93.

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